It’s December, they said. It’s the most wonderful time of year to be merry not weary, to bask in the magic of the holidays. I could never grasp my mind around why I had to swallow my thoughts and dump them into the box where I held all of my other inner workings.
I didn’t talk to folks or show up as myself as a child, internalizing all my assumptions that no one cared about the tornadoes pulsing against my eyes, gaining momentum as the years went on. Wondering who I could talk to: I was surrounded by people at home, always the creak of someone’s footsteps above me or the white noise of the TV next to me, pierced by a yell every now and then: “Run! Beat em, white boy!” A Steven Segal movie must be on; I knew those reactions. My sibling’s neighborhood friends, two of them I lusted and fiend over for years. Dayum, he looked good in that pink polo. Brown eyes like little pots of honey when the sunlight from the blinds hit them at the right angle- every angle. There were always people around, moving, interacting, one human connection to another. But I always felt lonely, shuttered into the 4 walls of my purple bedroom.
I stared at the grooves in the wall, picked up my hairbrush, and pretended like I was in a girl group, blanketed by people yearning to actually see me. Around middle school, I would dance in the mirror to Usher (dat Confessions album doe), pretending all was well and light-hearted. Look me in my face, I ain’t got no worries.
The more I twisted and turned, used my brush as a mic and inhaled old hair every time I re-enacted one of Usher’s runs, spin the hairbrush mic around my back like David Ruffin, down on my knees like Brian from the Backstreet Boys. For a half hour or so, my raised heartbeat brought joy and I held onto it, thinking it was permanent. Forget locked, shut doors were prohibited. As soon as someone walked by and saw me leanin back in the mirror, I would drop the mic, jump on my bed and open a book. Nothing to see here. I’m not doing anything out of the ordinary. Just reading.
Most conversation was surface level, except for the time I cried watching the Temptations movie and Otis found Blue had died in the kitchen. (I would say spoiler alert, but it’s been 21 years since the movie came out) The only movie that made me cry, I bawled as snot dripped from my nose, stuttering to one of my brothers that I was scared I would find Granny dead in the kitchen one day. I heaved and sniffled as he explained Granny wasn’t leaving any time soon. Moment passed, and we went back to our cursory corners of the house. Most conversations were surface level; I never showed up as myself or said what was on my mind. Nobody had time for what I considered to be my “extra:” We had dinner to make, chores to do, a schedule to keep because everyone had to be up early in the morning for either work or school. Emotions got in the way, disrupted the routine, popped a bubble in the seamless running of the house. I didn’t want to be the frayed and ragged thread that ruined the whole design, so I kept my emotions in my head, thinking I could dissect the sheet of ice that my anxiety skated against on my own. I would do it after it was my turn in the bathroom and I carved Jesus Loves Me into a drawer, after I turned the lights off to go to sleep, after I watched reruns of 106 & Park on the weekends, despite the fact I had seen the same episode live.
It was easy to not think much of the holidays. We had some traditions such as whose house we would show up at, who would clean beforehand, what was on the menu. Turkey, greens, dressing, homemade rolls for Thanksgiving, gumbo for Christmas. Gumbo was only at and for December 25th. People asked about school and it was easy to focus on that. School had always been my escape for external validation, those As and words of praise something to hold on to to prove that all was right in the world, while I ignored the petals falling into the dark abyss.
As I got older, the holidays began to mean even less. The more I was with an abusive partner, who fed me examples of how I didn’t need my family (they never made you happy anyway, you know you can’t talk to them, that’s why you only talk to me) that I was better off “giving my life” over to him and his, the more I honed in on my past yearnings for emotional validation. I had an ex-fiance. Fiance. We were supposed to combine our lives together, to brave the systemic evils of the world together. The holiday postcards in matching pajamas were taunting me of breakups past.
Others were stealing from me. Pawning. Deflecting and defensive. You’re fat. Stupid. I blocked and unblocked, moved to a different city, stopped calling as I set an unvocalized boundary in my head. If I couldn’t get someone to respect my need to stop equating my weight to my worth, to realize that I wasn’t going to put myself in another position where I was paying all the bills while they steadily overdrew my bank account with checks forged to their name, then I wasn’t going to pretend like I wanted to interact with them on the regular.
The holidays forced us into a vacuum, sitting knee to knee at a dining room table. Pretending to feel seen for a couple of hours as I spooned gumbo into my mouth and answered the perfunctory questions- school had evolved into work. I purposely asked and answered to keep the conversation away from my personal life. If they haven’t known the real me for 28 years, why start now? Why explain that I wanted to explore the side of me that enjoyed 69ing and licking sticky cum off the tip, the raw pride in not being nervous to say that crosses a sexual boundary and I’m no longer going there? Why bring up that I had created a rough 5 year plan in my head, but should I change it? That I didn’t know if grad school was for me- it had twisted everything I knew about being a student and presentations were a bitch and a half. That I was depressed, anxious, hyperventilating when I saw certain hands that reminded me of certain people, that I couldn’t go to the grocery store without wondering if I was going to run into You Know Who again, casually tapping me on the shoulder like those fingers hadn’t once crushed against my windpipes and restricted my air flow? Why bring it up now- the last time I had pointedly said A was physically abusive, I was called a liar. Explain the microaggressions, the wolf dog whistles, minimizing and blaming at work, the culminating death threat? No space for my emotions in that room, I felt, so I shoved them down with the gumbo and smiled as I said work was fine.
I never showed up as myself, and the holidays just barreled upon me every year, a reminder that toxic people were still there, that I haven’t had the conversations I practiced in the mirror. No one would hear as I laid out A, B, and circled back to C, how this is what I needed but wasn’t getting, how if X, Y, and especially Z continued, this is the boundary I would be setting because I couldn’t fucks with this person anymore. No one heard the explanations and decisions, and I perfunctorily asked for a ride to Thanksgiving and Christmas. That tradition of showing up to say nothing gnawed at me.
So, I decided to create my own, one-woman tradition based off what I need for myself.
- Normal is different for everyone: I don’t have to pretend like the commercials and cheesingly enjoyable made-for-TV/Netflix holiday movies are catered to me, or speaking my language. They ain’t. And that’s alright.
- Boundaries are important: I set boundaries with certain people years ago, from completely severing ties for my own safety to no longer calling. Our moral compasses might not align anymore, I might not feel emotionally validated around this person (like ever. Never ever. Ever ever.). Those boundaries were created for a reason, and I don’t have to sacrifice my mental health in the name of faux friends, family, etc. I am not going to engage with people who harm me or make the choice to not respect my boundaries.
- Self-kindness, not perfection: Besides the fact perfection is a fallacy, a non-achievable disappointment, it’s not my goal. My new tradition is to talk to myself with kindness when the loneliness lingers, to have compassion for the inner girl inside of me longing to live fully and loudly around family.